With performance cars coming in all shapes and sizes, it is tricky to say which is definitively the best. That said, our experts here at Auto Express have spent a considerable amount of time testing each and every performance car on sale, and have come up with the following judgement on the 10 best performance cars you can buy today.
When deciding which cars offer drivers the most fun behind the wheel, we had only two rules. Firstly, they were not allowed to be limited-run special editions that no normal person can ever hope to see in the metal, let alone drive. And secondly, they were not allowed to be eye-wateringly expensive hypercars, for similar reasons. Aside from that, it was open warfare.
Naturally then, our best performance cars list consists of everything from Italian supercar exotica and track car weapons to sophisticated sports cars, roadsters and hot hatches. There should be something for everyone who prioritises performance and handling when choosing a new car.
A crucial ingredient of any performance car is the ability to entertain, to put a smile on a driver’s face, and this doesn’t require face splitting 0-60mph acceleration or sound barrier-breaking top speeds. What really matters is a car’s innate knack of involving the driver in the process of driving. It can be in the way information is transmitted back from the road and wheels, how the car responds to control inputs, or if the driver can get the back end to step out on demand. Preferably, a great performance car will deliver all this and more.
One other thing that our chosen 10 have in common is that they are all reasonably easy to drive. That means they’re just as happy pottering around town as they are on a track day. Whichever model you choose, we’d highly recommend some advanced driver training to help you get the most from a performance car. You don’t need to hire a circuit to do this (although a track day might be a good way of getting to know how your car behaves on the limit in a safe environment), but the right kind of training can open your eyes to your car’s potential.
Some of the performance models below are the halo cars of mainstream manufacturers, offering huge ability and often the looks to match, while others are the best current efforts from famous supercar brands. Most importantly, they all offer genuine thrills for drivers looking for the ultimate performance machine.
Top 10 best performance cars
- Toyota GR Yaris
- Porsche 911
- Ferrari Roma
- Aston Martin Vantage
- Ferrari F8 Tributo
- Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster
- Alpine A110
- BMW M5 Competition
- Honda Civic Type R
- Ford Fiesta ST
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1. Toyota GR Yaris
It may be small, but the Toyota GR Yaris is extremely mighty and highly deserving of a spot on this list. In fact, we like it so much that we’ve named it our Performance Car of the Year in our New Car Awards 2021. To create their ‘World Rally Car for the Road’, Toyota has done far more than just soup up a standard Yaris with a bit of bodykit and a big exhaust. Instead they’ve added what they claim to be the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine – giving out a whopping 257bhp – stiffened the suspension, and fitted a highly-sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. This combination makes for a pocket rocket that will pack a serious punch on the straights and then dominate the twists and turns, all while putting an enormous smile on your face – exactly what a performance car is all about.
With a claimed 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 143mph, the GR Yaris may not be as fast as some of the other cars on this list, but it is such a fun car to drive that this likely won’t matter if you find yourself behind the wheel. Where it also shines is in its daily usability, the small engine should return around 34mpg on a combined cycle – which is a lot by typical performance car standards – it will also seat four passengers, and comes with Toyota’s five-year/100,000-mile warranty.
2. Porsche 911
There are few cars that can claim such a long and rich heritage as the Porsche 911. The 992 is the 8th generation after almost 60 years of 911 production, and continues to advance the technological and performance standards of this flagship model. There are a multitude of variants available but one thing remains the same across the range, the 911’s brilliant all-round performance as a premium sports car.
Even in standard Carrera guise, the 911 will launch from 0-62mph in just 4.2 seconds and onto a top speed of 182mph. However, if that’s not enough for you, the Turbo S (with the Sport Chrono Package fitted) makes for even more impressive figures of 2.7 seconds and 205mph. This outstanding performance, an engaging driving experience, and even enough practicality to allow you to take a weekend away with luggage make the 911 a solid choice if you are looking for a high-performance car that you could use on a daily basis, and it is undoubtedly worthy of being commended for our Performance Car of the Year 2021.
3. Ferrari Roma
Our other commended entry for Performance car of the Year 2021 is one of the most radically outstanding cars to come from Ferrari in years, the Roma. The brand’s latest grand tourer differs somewhat from previous Ferrari GT cars, such as the Portofino and California. The first, and most obvious way in which it differs is in appearance, as an all new direction in styling is intended to show the world that the brand is entering a new era, with the smooth and elegant Roma looking vastly different from just about any other car to wear the prancing horse.
Don’t be alarmed, though, as this is still a fully-fledged Ferrari, and a 612bhp 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 helps to ensure that the Roma is far more than just eye candy. This car may be officially intended to go on pleasurable longer journeys – and with a 272-litre boot and room for kids in the back, it is actually fairly practical – but it will still effortlessly propel you from 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds and onto a top speed of 199mph.
4. Aston Martin Vantage
The latest Aston Martin Vantage had some very big shoes to fill after the sales success and overall popularity of the car that it replaces. In order to save on costs, Aston Martin has partnered with Mercedes-AMG to source a number of components, including the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that resides upfront. This is no bad thing, however, as every single component on the car – Mercedes-sourced or otherwise – has been tweaked by Aston’s engineers to ensure that they live up to the brand’s expectations.
Unlike a number of competitors who have moved on to all-wheel-drive, Aston have retained rear-wheel-drive for the Vantage. This keeps things highly entertaining, especially when the Sport+ or Track drive modes are selected, and despite only having drive to the rear wheels, the Vantage grips the road very well. But, if you so wish, switching the traction control off will transform the car into an easy and thoroughly enjoyable drifter.
5. Ferrari F8 Tributo
The second V8-powered Ferrari on this list, the F8 Tributo follows a very different path to the aforementioned Roma. It is another very pretty car, but it follows much more typical Ferrari styling cues that result in some clear similarities to the 488 GTB, which it replaces. Make no mistake, though, the F8 is far more than just a rehashed 488.
The F8’s 3.9-litre V8 now puts out 710bhp, and, compared to the 488 GTB, 40kg of weight has been dropped and aerodynamic efficiency has been increased by 10 percent. It certainly doesn’t take a genius to work out that this combination yields some seriously impressive results – 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 211mph make the F8 a car that will even give the V12 Ferraris, such as the 812 Superfast, a serious run for their money.
6. Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster
While the mid-engined, two-seater sports car market isn’t exactly saturated, the cars that do occupy it face a tight battle to be the best, and the Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster is often regarded as a pinnacle car in this sector. Even though the 718 is technically an entry-point into Porsche ownership, it provides an incredibly sharp and enjoyable driving experience that few cars can come close to matching.
The latest generation cars caused something of a stir among fans when Porsche announced that they would be downsizing the engine choices from six-cylinders down to four. Controversy aside, these turbocharged units are still more than up to the job – with the only real downside being a distinct lack of noise. However, Porsche has since reintroduced a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder engine to the GTS models. No matter which 718 you opt for, though, you will enjoy precise steering, excellent balance, brilliant handling, and plenty of power – so you will struggle to go wrong.
7. Alpine A110
A car that is firmly set on knocking the Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster off the top of the two-seater sports car rankings is the Alpine A110. Designed as a homage to the original A110 from the 1960s, this new car is reintroducing the Alpine brand after a very long hiatus, so parent company Renault have taken every step to ensure that the modern A110 makes a big impression on a new generation of customer.
The only engine available is a turbocharged 1.8-litre – which can be had in two states of tune offering either 248bhp or 288bhp – and this is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Combine this level of power with a car that weighs less than 1,200kg, rear-wheel-drive, and perfect balance thanks to the rear-mounted engine, and the Alpine A110 proves a very fun and capable car, especially on more twisty roads. With a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds – dropping to 4.4 for the S version – It may not be quite as quick as some rivals, but it certainly is no slouch.
8. BMW M5 Competition
If you feel that our picks so far have been on the somewhat impractical side, then the BMW M5 Competition should help to solve that issue. As with all M5s before it, the latest M5 Competition follows the formula of taking the large and sensible 5-Series and transforming it into an absolute performance brute.
The M5 Competition is a further improved version of the standard car, and while it does command a higher price, the upgrades do make a big impact. The twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8’s power is increased by 24bhp to a grand total of 616bhp, a new exhaust system is fitted to improve gas flow and make for a phenomenal soundtrack, but where the biggest improvements lie is with the chassis – The ride height is dropped by 7mm, the springs are 10 percent stiffer, front camber is adjusted, stiffer engine mounts are used, and stronger rose joints are fitted to the rear axle. All of these changes make the M5 Competition a car that will take school and shopping runs in its stride during the week, and then completely dominate the track at the weekend.
9. Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic Type R started out as a hot yet understated hatchback. While it was a solid performer, it never tried to stand out too much from the standard Civic. The latest Type R, however, is arguably one of the most overstyled cars ever to come from Honda. Aggressive bumpers, 20-inch alloy wheels and a huge rear wing ensure that nobody is able to mistake the Civic Type R for any other car. However, this is a Honda, so there is method in the apparent madness – the bumpers and rear wing help to generate downforce, which improves performance and stability, and even the bonkers triple exhaust actually helps to reduce engine noise at motorway speeds.
This form mixed with function continues when behind the wheel of the Civic Type R. Select either the Sport or +R driving mode and the steering becomes weightier, the throttle response sharpens and the body control becomes much tighter, making the hot Honda feel like a touring car for the road. However, if you are in need of a more relaxed rate of pace, then engaging the Comfort mode will result in a more supple ride. This softening of the suspension, mixed with the comfortable bucket seats. will transform the Civic Type R into a surprisingly refined cruiser – and these options of either ferocity or refinement at the touch of a button make for a truly great, usable hot hatchback.
10. Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST was originally introduced in 2005 to show the world that the ‘Fast Ford’ was still alive and kicking. Now, the eighth generation Fiesta is the 3rd car to wear the ST badge, and it still poses a very real challenge to rivals like the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Mini Cooper S. The biggest change in the latest Fiesta ST is that the engine has been downsized to a three-cylinder. However, as we have learned from the Toyota GR Yaris, three can indeed be a magic number, and the Fiesta’s turbocharged 1.5-litre engine produces 197bhp and 290Nm of torque – plenty for this hot little supermini.
Efficiency is also a party piece of the Fiesta ST, and cylinder deactivation technology means that the engine will run on only two cylinders when only a little power is needed – the third cylinder smoothly kicking-in on demand. Thanks to this technology and the smaller engine, running costs are reasonable. Combine this with pricing that starts at £21,995 and the Fiesta ST makes a great entry point into performance car ownership.
These cars are edge of your seat exciting, but if you want to be thrown back into it instead then look at our list of the fastest accelerating cars in the world 2021